Opinion

Committee for Refugee Student Access: students work to enroll displaced Syrians at Mac

As the Syrian conflict enters its seventh year, the need to protect the right to education has become an absolute imperative. Since the first outbreak of violence in 2011, an estimated five million Syrians have fled their homes and another 8.7 million have been displaced inside Syria’s borders (Amnesty International). The conflict has denied millions of young adults their right to education and has therefore obstructed recovery and stability in Syria in the long run. Alongside the education crisis, the immediate return home for refugees continues to seem unlikely. Neighboring countries, specifically Jordan and Lebanon, strain to support such a dramatic increase in population, and revised European and American immigration policies deny refuge to those who have survived the journey to their borders. In response to this catastrophic time, and further motivated by the nomination and subsequent election of Donald Trump, we (Farah AlHaddad, Nahla Almbaid, Nick Bascuñan-Wiley, Isamu Bix, Muath Ibaid, Ari Jahiel, Bo Kim, Abby Massell, Rebecca Mendelsohn and JP Sieck) have initiated the Committee for Refugee Student Access (CRSA) that advocates for the recruitment and admission of three displaced Syrian students per year to Macalester.

Since Fall 2016, this team has taken the time to educate itself and members of the campus community, including peers, faculty and administration, about the responsibility Macalester has to respond to the education crisis caused by widespread displacement. Outside of these conversations, we have met weekly to discuss the most appropriate and effective line of action. Currently, we are exploring a potential partnership with the Institute of International Education (IIE), an organization dedicated to advancing and spreading education across the world. This partnership would help streamline the recruitment and admission process, as IIE has been reaching out to Syrian students for several years.

A project of this nature depends on the successful completion and repetition of three steps: (1) administrative approval and procurement of funds, (2) recruitment and admission of the students and (3) a commitment to the long-term well-being of these students through the establishment of on-campus services. At the start of this spring semester, we are still in phase one. That said, we are building momentum, gaining support and remaining steadfast in our requests of the college’s resources and support.

Following Trump’s signing of the “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” executive order, the realization of this project has become both increasingly urgent and uncertain. At this point it is unclear how exactly F1 student visas—the visas that all international students need to enter the U.S.—may be affected under the Trump administration. We do not know if or when the ban on citizens from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen will be lifted, nor what the aftermath of this executive action will look like. What we do know, however, is that we will continue to move forward on this project, gaining support across campus and across the numerous Macalester networks. Whether it be 120 days or 120 weeks from now, when reason and humanity replace fear and hate as the building blocks of American immigration policy, we will ensure that Macalester is equipped to carry out this crucial effort.

As students, faculty and staff of a college that puts special emphasis on internationalism, multiculturalism and service to society, the entire Macalester community would do well to commit to its values at a time when our government would have us abandon them. To all of our peers, professors and administrators who have supported us in our efforts so far—thank you. To those who took time to converse in solidarity, attended our teach-in session, joined mailing lists and came out to the Speak Out Against Muslim Ban March— thank you. The continuation and strength of CRSA depend entirely on those who support it. If you wish to join our mailing list, email falhadda@macalester.edu, and please reach out to us with questions or suggestions as we launch into subsequent phases of this project.

February 10, 2017

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